For Timothy Donnelly, writing in the wake of a terrifying health scare, poetry enabled him to stage a rearguard action against a world turned suddenly ‘unbeautiful’. In the first interview of this edition, he talks of the ‘compulsion to re-beautify… through the imposition of one’s own designs’. It’s a tough, assertive take on our sometimes gentle art, a stance that lends itself as much to political as existential resistance. Oli Hazzard picks up on this nuance in his deep reading of ‘The Last Dream of Light Released from Seaports’, another Donnelly poem that wilfully imposes its designs, this time onto the tawdry obfuscations of the US Patriot Act.
How to square the poet’s necessary impositions with Keats’s famous credo that we instinctively reject poetry that has ‘palpable designs on us’? Sasha Dugdale and Emily Hasler ponder this among many other questions in a rich interview about form and formlessness, inspiration and frustration. The first of several features in this edition to confront the challenges of ekphrasis, it examines what happens when a poem runs aground, or fails to tally with the original designs of its author.
Dugdale’s source was a painting by Évariste Luminais depicting the story of two princes who, to punish their disobedience, had the nerves of their legs removed so that they could no longer walk, much less rebel. Mark Waldron would no doubt empathise with such a state of dissipation. As he admits in conversation with Francine Elena, his suspicion of the authorial ‘I’ stems from a feeling that ‘I don’t even have a clear idea who the “I” in my life is, let alone an “I” in my poems’. The paradox here is that, whoever else Waldron’s authorial ‘I’ may be, he’s certainly someone who enjoys imposing his designs on a throng of different characters and voices. Emily Berry’s essay probes at the dark, intentional ironies at play in this approach; how Waldron’s work both satirizes and enacts a perverse type of objectification.
The last of our main features spotlights Pascale Petit, whose poetry has long sought to bring order to a unique, traumatic family history. Here she talks candidly to Aime Williams about her parents, the hurt that overshadowed their estranged family, and how the animal kingdom has offered her the means to escape and reconfigure this poisonous legacy. Richard O’Brien explores another aspect of trauma with an essay on the sex and violence in one of Petit’s earlier poems inspired by the art of Frida Kahlo.
Finally, then, to Poem to Poem, a new series designed to get poets talking head to head about each other’s work. The deep dialogue between poets is something that should characterise all of our features at Prac Crit, but we think that this offers something else as well: a forum for two writers to come together on a level pegging to investigate their common preoccupations. Matthew Gregory and Kate Kilalea’s conversation about sequences, Thomas Mann and everything in between provides another insight into the extent of poetry’s practical and visionary designs.